Rustenburg - She’s packed and ready to go. She apologises for the bric-a-brac lying around. And her PA says: “From today I am ‘boss-less’.” When one speaks to Lieutenant-General Zukiswa Mbombo, one senses she can’t wait a day longer.
After 35 years in the police, the outgoing North West police commissioner leaves with the scar of the Marikana killings hanging like an albatross around her neck.
She says she doesn’t want to talk about the incident where, under her watch, police, apparently indiscriminately, shot dead 34 mineworkers.
But she keeps coming back to it, unprompted. You cannot have done such good work “for so many years”, she says, and be judged on the basis of one bad decision.
She wants to forget it. If she could, it would be just a nightmare from which she could awaken. But, sadly, it happened; people died. Men with families back home. Men like her own father, who was also a mineworker.
There is no doubt that she’s a decent human being. She says her role had always been that of a mother “who takes care of her family”.
She returns to this analogy a few times during the interview.
But things went horribly awry for this head of the family that day in August 2012 when bullets rang out and a total of 34 people lay dead.
And for this Mbombo is terribly sorry. She comes across as remorseful, truly honest.
This is a far cry from the picture of her painted by evidence leaders at the Farlam Commission who described her as inconsistent and untruthful.
In the two weeks during which she gave testimony before the commission, she was under severe criticism and scrutiny. At one point, Mbombo had to deny that her actions were politically motivated.
And the Presidency has denied her departure has anything to do with the much anticipated report.
She repeats that, in her view, there were blunders in the way the police carried out their operation on that fateful day, August 16, 2012.
She pauses to gather her thoughts and this reporter is of the view that if he’d been a fly on the wall Mbombo would have broken down and cried.
How easily do you cry?
“I cried during my address to members the other day when I had to mention the Marikana killings.”
Everyone affected by the Marikana massacre surely wants to hear what’s in the report. Workers and their next of kin stand behind labour union Amcu in its quest to force President Jacob Zuma to release the dossier.
He says he’s still mulling over it and will release it before the end of June.
But Mbombo is aware she won’t come out of it smelling of roses and surely wishes it could just go away.
We digress and ask her to talk about other things or even take in the view from her spacious third-floor office at the police headquarters in the Potchefstroom CBD for the last time.
“I will remember this place fondly,” she says.
She hails from Mount Fletcher in the Eastern Cape but grew up in Xolobe, in Tsolo.
She talks about a husband with whom she had not been able to live together for 15 years because of the itinerant nature of police service.
She met her husband when she was training as a nurse and fell pregnant. “I was kicked out of the system.”
They have four children: three boys and a girl. And what still ties her to Potchefstroom is a child still at university there.
One gets the sense that had this not been the case, Mbombo would just have upped and left, headed to her husband in the Eastern Cape, or their holiday home in the south of Durban.
When she was barred from further training in nursing, she joined the police in 1980, a year after her first child, a girl, was born. Bitter sweet …
She’d rise through the ranks and “I worked in Gauteng, where I was Deputy Commissioner … 2002, 2003. 2004 …”
“I led two provinces with distinction,” she says, “the Northern Cape and North West until …”
The elephant in the room returns. Marikana.
She does not break down but I’m sure she’d have gladly accepted a hug had I offered one.
“We’re human too,” she says, employing the royal plural before resorting back to “I cannot be judged on the basis of one mistake”.
She is leaving today. In her words: “I’m retiring because I’m 60.”
The first child of her parents, she’s blessed with good genes and doesn’t look a day near her age.
But she’s leaving and can’t wait to ride into the sunset, this at a time when the SAPS has issued a clarion call to all ex-members with scarce skills to return to its fold.
There is little doubt the police can do with her vast knowledge and experience. But she wants to go: the blot of Marikana clearly weighs just too heavily on her conscience.
“I am tired.”
She will use her time away from the glare of the media to help her husband in the family business and “to play with my two grandchildren”.
She is a lovely person but it’s difficult to speak to Mbombo. She makes for a very awkward interlocutor. Maybe her good nature would show in another time, under different circumstances … just not now.
In a world that forgives thanks to the oft-abused concept of ubuntu, that has allowed us to forgive killers like Clive Derby-Lewis and Eugene de Kock, maybe memories of Marikana will fade so that Zukiswa Mbombo too can get on with her life.
But first her own conscience needs to let her be.
We shake hands and part ways. Her hand is warm, a mother’s hand. The sort of hand that nurtures and gives life, not take life as on that fateful day at Marikana. ”I am tired,” she says.
The Sunday Independent